Politics

September 24, 2012

Off the Trail: Blue-collar workers seek candidate who'll make life less of a struggle

Money issues, from personal earnings to social spending, are critical to some making a living in the fishing industry.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Another in a weekly series on what Mainers across the state say about the race for the White House -- and what they want from the next president.

click image to enlarge

Adam Trussel, a lobster packer from Alna, says he’s undecided about the presidential election and not even sure he’ll vote on Nov. 6, but if he does, it will be for the candidate most likely to lower his taxes.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Mike Baudanza, a lobsterman from Thomaston, says the presidency of Ronald Reagan has made him a longtime Republican voter.

Gabe Souza

Additional Photos Below

OWLS HEAD - If class warfare becomes a fault line in the presidential election, 21-year-old Adam Trussel stands squarely on the breaking point.

Trussel, a 21-year-old laborer from Alna, makes his living packing lobsters. He works for a little more than $10 an hour -- "it's better than McDonald's," he says -- and two weeks ago he logged 84 hours at Atwood Lobster Co. at Spruce Head. The week before that, he worked about 60 hours.

"It's just ridiculous," said Trussel, a burly, bearded young man whose stature suggests he's not afraid of working hard.

His job entails packing live lobsters into insulated boxes, sealing and preparing them for shipping either by truck or plane.

Trussel, a Democrat, hasn't made up his mind about the election. He's not even sure he's going to vote. He's more concerned about getting a good night's sleep and being able to take some time off than he is about politics.

But he knows one thing: If he goes to the polls Nov. 6, he's voting for the candidate who has the best chance of lowering his taxes. Every dime matters.

In Maine, incomes are headed in the wrong direction. According to latest figures from the U.S. Census, the state median household income dropped by 7.7 percent from 2007 to 2011; the number of unemployed people increased by 43 percent; and the number of people living in poverty was up 15 percent.

Those figures mirror national trends.

Along Maine's midcoast, in the heart of some of the state's best lobstering grounds, the election is playing out on the wharves, on the boats and in the packing plants.

ONE VIEW: OBAMA IS BEST HOPE

On one side of the issue is 63-year-old Adrian Hooydonk of Spruce Head. He's already retired from two careers -- from the Coast Guard and from teaching vocational school. But he cannot afford to stay retired.

These days, he buys lobsters for Ship to Shore Lobster Co. in Owls Head. He's up at 4 a.m., to work a half-hour later and home again at 6, 7 or 8 at night, depending on when the last boat off-loads its catch.

"I'm the first of the middlemen in the chain of middlemen," he said in a thick Dutch accent, owing to his upbringing in the Netherlands.

He's a solid supporter of President Obama, because he believes Obama cares more about people like him and because he fears the direction the country will turn if the tea party gains more traction. "The poor, the elderly and the sick are going to be screwed big time," he says.

As he talks, Hooydonk unloads 3- by 8-inch planks that are 20 feet long from the bed of his pickup. His arms are scratched and bloodied from his labor. He spent $1,700 on lumber to replace the deck of his private wharf. When he replaced this same deck 15 years ago, it cost less than half as much.

He can barely keep up with the rising costs of everything, and worries for himself and his neighbors about the price of food and gas heading into winter. "People are starving," he said.

On this peninsula, low-grade unleaded gas costs $4.15 a gallon -- a good 15 cents higher than up the road on Route 1.

Since he moved to the United States in 1972, Hooydonk has always found work, and isn't averse to cobbling together jobs. In the past, in addition to his two careers, he's owned interest in a commercial fishing boat, caught lobster, plowed snow, worked as a handyman for summer folk and cooked professionally.

He doesn't approve of everything Obama has done, but blames obstruction tactics of the Republicans for sabotaging Obama's larger goals. "I think his ideologies are wonderful. I just wish he had the parties behind him to carry some of his wishes out," he says.

OTHER SIDE: ROMNEY CAN DO BETTER

On the other side of the political spectrum is Mike Baudanza, a 54-year-old lobsterman from Thomaston. He keeps his boat at Owls Head and sells his catch to Ship to Shore, where Hooydonk works as a buyer.

Like Hooydonk, he's up at dawn and works all day, often motoring back into harbor at dusk. Baudanza is voting for Republican Mitt Romney "hands down. No question about it."

His loyalty to Romney is evidenced by the black-and-white picture of the candidate that he taped to the rear window of his pickup truck. He is passionate about his beliefs, and isn't shy about expressing his opinion to anyone who asks -- and many who don't.

"Nobody wants to snarl with me," Baudanza said after loading a barrel of bait into his 36-foot fishing boat, Red Hot. "I'm not college educated, but I'm pretty well-versed with what's going on. ... I can tell a nickel from a dime."

He is beyond exasperated with Obama and the Democrats. He might have been less conservative when he was younger, but everything changed for him when Ronald Reagan became president. "When Ronald Reagan took the oath of office, I noticed my paycheck go up by 25 bucks a week," he said. "I've voted Republican since then."

He makes a good living, and sees himself as solidly middle class. He's worked hard all his life. He's fished since high school and owned his own boat for 25 years. He has a 15-year-old boy, and hopes to stay on the water another 20 years and eventually turn his business over to his son.

Baudanza employs one sternman and spends $500 daily on bait and fuel at Ship to Shore. He's a small businessman who creates jobs, and believes the only way out of our current financial mess is to elect someone who makes job creation the No. 1 priority. The No. 2 priority has to be budget restraint. Romney is the best man for the job, he said.

"As you get older, you start to see things. I don't know how anybody thinks they can make $2 out of $1. I just don't see how you think you can do it without jobs," he said.

His biggest beef with the Democrats are policies that support what he calls an "entitlement society" where "everybody is owed something."

He took no offense whatsoever when he learned of Romney's "47 percent" comment, when the candidate suggested that nearly half the country doesn't pay taxes. He applauds Romney for speaking up. The percentage may be off a bit, but that's beside the point.

"He's talking about a segment of society (where) all they do is set back and try to find something for nothing," he said. "If the Democrats could come up with some ideas to curb fraud, I could buy into a lot of their philosophies. But as it is right now ... everything's just an open -- here it is, come and get it."

Their politics are very different, but Hooydonk and Baudanza have more in common than might appear. They show up at the same wharf every morning for work. Hooydonk buys the lobsters that Baudanza catches, and one depends on the other for their livelihood.

They share a solid work ethic and similar life goals.

Caught somewhere in the middle is Trussel, the 21-year-old kid from Alna who packs lobsters. He's a few years out of high school and trying to find solid footing so he can begin building his life.

In Maine, the election will be decided by working-class folks like Hooydonk, Baudanza, and, perhaps, Trussel -- if he gets enough time off work to make it to the polls.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

 

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Adrian Hooydonk unties lumber from his pickup truck last week at his home in Spruce Head. The lobster buyer doesn’t approve of everything President Obama has done, but blames Republicans for being obstructionist.

Gabe Souza

  


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